Prairie students among participants in Veteran’s Day tournament event

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By Steve Van Kooten


Cars lined up around the block from the Boscobel Wellness and Martial Arts Center on Veteran’s Day for a Tae Kwon Do Tournament hosted by Ray Saint’s Traditional Korean Martial Arts Academy. By 10 a.m. the center’s ground floor was jam-packed with students from ages 4 to 70 along with an audience of friends, family and instructors for multiple contests. More than 110 people competed from academies hailing from states as far away as Ohio.

On the wall, multiple belts, from a white belt all the way to black, hung from a wooden rack. Many of the event’s participants were there under the eyes of wizened masters of Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido and weapons art forms to test for the next level of their training.

The floor, covered with a protective mat, was divided into sections. In one area children as young as five gathered to show the skills they’d learned while adults sequestered themselves on another for the same purpose. Some stretched in preparation while others checked their gear and weapons and still others sat patiently; all of them waited to be called to the forefront.

Saint has held five martial arts tournaments in recognition of Veteran’s Day  and given the proceeds to the Boscobel Veterans Memorial. Saint stated, “The word martial can be translated to mean military so it is only right that we recognize our amazing veterans that ‘volunteer’ to serve our nation. All the kids and students recognize we hold this tournament to not only grow as individuals in our art but to help others at the same time.” 

The 2023 event was estimated to have raised around $1,300. Sponsors of the event included Fillback Auto, People’s State Bank, Gundersen Health System and Accounting Associates.

Tournaments serve a function in martial arts. Vanessa Aspenson, Program Director for Saint’s Boscobel and Prairie du Chien locations, said their community has a family dynamic and tournaments strengthen it.

“It keeps people coming back and going back to improve,” Aspenson said.  “It’s the confidence we build with each other.” Aspenson is one of several staff who provide everything from after school care, homework assistance, transportation and activities for children in the academy’s programming alongside the martial arts training. Last summer the program had 57 children.

Jeff Aspenson, a fifth degree black belt of the Boscobel school, was the tournament’s Grand Champion after defeating black belts from Iowa and Illinois.

On the mat, beginner students took turns against each other, using dexterity and guile to snatch the flag from an opponent’s belt. Wesley Luna, 5, a member of the Prairie du Chien location’s Mini-Tigers program, wore a medal after he won a capture the flag competition in his age group. Afterward, he walked to the back with several boards in his hand.

“We chop them with these!” Luna told the Courier Press as he held up his fist and pointed at his knuckles. He laughed, “We chop them with our butts!”

“It’s self-confidence, but it’s also, for younger ages, coordination and balance. They’re learning about their own bodies. Basically, they’re re-learning how to walk,” Enrique Becwar, Instructor at the Boscobel and Prairie du Chien locations, said.

Juxtaposed to the younger competitors, adults and adolescents demonstrated their ability in forms, both with their bodies and weapons. Small wood planks were passed around in preparation for breaking tests. 

Becwar said tournaments, and martial arts as a whole, are a way to grow. Martial arts may have been the outlet that allowed someone to conquer anxiety, socialize with people and learn self-evaluation skills. The techniques engender skills that are transferable to the outside world and give the body and the mind a way to work in unison effectively. And those are lessons anyone—not just children—can learn.

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